Congress has to decide whether it would rather compose and pass legislation aimed at finding a solution for the root causes of a flagging economy, or make an empty strategic political gesture at one of the symptoms and, in the process, abandon over 1 million of the most vulnerable citizens of this country.
That’s what’s at stake in the currently unfolding battle over federal long-term unemployment benefits, which expired on Dec. 28, and it’s not hard to see how elitist and out-of-touch politicians, in both major parties, can ignore the human faces behind the issue and, instead, use it as a tool to make the rival party look bad at the very beginning of what’s sure to be an incredibly divisive election year.
Legislation to extend the unemployment payments has stalled in the Senate, according to a recent Associated Press article, over a dispute between Republican and Democrat leadership regarding how to pay for the extension.
The initial Democrat proposal sought to add the cost of extending the benefits program for three months, at $6.4 billion, to the deficit.
Republicans didn’t like that idea, understandably, and suggested offsetting the extension with a “delay [of] the requirement for individuals to purchase health care under ‘Obamacare,’” the AP article said, “and another to prevent immigrants living in the United States from claiming a certain type of tax credit for their children.”
I can’t figure out how the Obamacare suggestion will save the government any money, which is, in theory, what this debate is all about. That’s not to say that adding billions of dollars to the deficit is a good idea, but Republicans simply aren’t going to win any fight over the piece of legislation that will define the Obama presidency, given the current balance of political power. If they want to pay for the benefits, they need to propose a way that has a chance of surviving the process.
The bottom line is that the best thing both parties could do, at this point, is make the unemployment benefits extension happen. For the sake of the people who have been most adversely effected by the lapse.
America needs policy that will make it easier for businesses to create good, high-paying blue-collar jobs, not policy that will throw the long-term unemployed to the wolves, all in the name of an election-year statement. After we solve the jobs problem — the root cause — we will have already gone a long way to dealing with the symptom of long-term unemployment.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.